CAESAREA NATIONAL PARK
Caesarea is an ancient city in Israel that reached the heights of its greatness during the era of the Roman Empire. Now it is an archaeological site and an interesting tourist attraction.
Caesarea is located approximately halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, but it is closest to the city of Netanya. In various guidebooks and on the pages of the Internet, Caesarea can be ranked among the attractions of any of these cities, do not be surprised.
Caesarea is named after Caesar, that was, the emperor of Rome. Its builder, King Herod the Great, was a protege of Rome, and it is not surprising that he chose such a name for his new capital. There were many cities with such a name in the world, for example, Alexandria was named after Alexnder the great, and something was necessarily added to the name to distinguish them.
In English and other European languages, it is called "Caesarea". But in Hebrew, the name sounds the same as in Russian - Caesarea. If you take a taxi to this place, then there will be no problems with an explanation to the driver.
HISTORY OF CAESAREA
The first settlement on this place appeared 370 years before the new era. It was founded by Strato I, the Phoenician king of Sidon. There was a lighthouse and a village called "Straton's Tower".
Greatness came to Caesarea in 22 BC, when King Herod the Great ruled Palestine. He was a protege of Rome, and the Jews did not like him. His power was shaky and rested on the strength of mercenaries and Roman legionaries, and no Palestinian city suited him as a capital.
He decided to build a new capital from scratch and chose this place. The city was named after Emperor Octavian Augustus - Emperor of Rome and patron saint of Herod. But there was a big problem - in the new Caesarea, there was no bay for anchorage and unloading of ships.
Herod created an artificial bay using innovative technology - concrete. Ancient Roman concrete had little resemblance to modern concrete; it consisted of lime and volcanic ash.
This concrete was rarely used because of its high cost, but Herod did not consider expenses, he needed the new capital “like air”. The remains of those concrete structures can now be seen in Caesarea.
Over the years, luxury houses, baths, an amphitheater, a hippodrome, Herod's palace, and Roman temples have appeared in Caesarea. After the death of Herod, Caesarea became a full-fledged Roman colony. Retired Roman legionaries received land here, and the city's population consisted almost entirely of Greeks and Romans. Herod's palace became the seat of the Roman governors, and Caesarea itself became the capital of the Roman province of Judea.
Caesarea remained the capital of Palestine during the Roman and Byzantine empires. In the 630s, the city was conquered by the Arabs. For the next 600 years, Caesarea was already the Islamic capital of Palestine with beautiful mosques and minarets.
In 1101 Caesarea was captured by the knights-crusaders, in 1187 the Arabs under the leadership of Saladin conquered it again, in 1191 new crusaders under the command of Richard I brought it back. In 1220, the Arabs again took Caesarea by storm, but this time they destroyed the city.
In 1251, during the seventh crusade, the city was restored by the Crusaders, but in 1265 the Mamluks conquered Caesarea again and again and destroyed it to the ground. After that, the city was no longer rebuilt. As a result, here you can see the remains of buildings from different eras - Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and the buildings of the Crusaders. In Caesarea, many important archaeological discoveries have been made of local importance, but one discovery is of global significance.
MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES OF CAESAREA - PILATE'S STONE
Probably all readers know the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It is believed that the procurator (governor) of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sentenced Christ to death. There was a serious problem in this story for a long time.
Until 1961, historians and archaeologists did not find any evidence that this person existed at all. Pontius Pilate ruled Judea for supposedly 10 years, and not a single mention in scrolls, stones, or chronicles!
How is this possible? Unsurprisingly, most scholars considered Pontius Pilate to be a fictional character. And this called into question the realism of the entire New Testament. It was here in Caesarea in June 1961 that the expedition of the Italian archaeologist Antonio Frova found a stone block measuring 82 by 65 centimeters. This stone was found behind the amphitheater building.
The inscription is not completely preserved, but the name “PILATUS” can be seen. There is no doubt that Pontius Pilate is mentioned on the stone. The inscription reads: "To Augustus Tiberius Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea dedicated this." This is probably one of the blocks of the wall of the temple dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, which was built by Pontius Pilate.
Then the stone was used to build a staircase in one of the houses behind the amphitheater building, hence its damage. The real stone is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and a copy can be viewed in Caesarea. This stone revealed another interesting fact to us - Pontius Pilate was not a procurator, he was perfect. The difference, in this case, is only in the title of the position. In some provinces, the governors were called procurators, in others prefects, but the duties and rights were the same. There is still a lot of interesting things in Caesarea, but to see it, you need to get here first.
HOW TO GET TO CAESAREA NATIONAL PARK?
Caesarea is conveniently located near the Tel Aviv-Haifa railway line, and trains stop here. The station is called “Caesarea-Pardes Hana”. There is another station, which is located at a comparable distance from Caesarea, it is called “Binyamina”.
From Tel Aviv, the train takes 40 minutes, the ticket price is 26 Israeli shekels or 41.5 shekels for a round-trip ticket. From Haifa, the train arrives in 41 minutes, the ticket price is 24 shekels or 38.5 shekels for a round-trip ticket.
The station is located five kilometers from the archaeological site. You can walk for about an hour but taking a taxi will be much better, which will cost another 40 shekels. From the station "Caesarea-Pardes Hana" there is a bus number 80, but rarely, and you should not seriously rely on it.
Considering the difficult logistics of reaching Caesarea, I recommend that you consider booking a private Caesarea -Haifa - Akko tour, I will guide you and show you all the interesting things that the old Caesarea Port has to offer. And besides visiting Caesarea, such a tour includes a trip to several other attractions such as the Ralli Museum or the Aquadocts.
CAESAREA NATIONAL PARK TICKET PRICE
For an adult visitor, a ticket costs 40 shekels, for a child - 24 shekels. With this ticket you can watch whatever you want, no additional payments will be required.
CAESAREA NATIONAL PARK WORKING HOURS
From April to September: from 9-00 to 18-00. Friday and holidays: from 9-00 to 16-00 From October to March: from 9-00 to 16-00. Friday and holidays: from 9-00 to 15-00. The reason for the short day of work on Friday is Shabbat.
HOW MUCH TIME TO PLAN TO VISIT CAESAREA?
Not too much. The entire area can be walked around in an hour, but it is better to plan for two hours. If you still want to see the museum, plunge into the sea and sit in a local restaurant with a beautiful sea view, then plan a half-day.
THE AMPHITHEATER OF CAESAREA
The Israelis are proud of this amphitheater because it is the largest ancient Roman amphitheater in Israel. Palestine was located on the periphery of the Roman Empire, and the Romans did not build large cities here. As a result, only three amphitheaters have survived in Israel.
The other two in the cities of Scyphopolis(Beit Shean) and Eluferopolis(Zipporis) are much smaller than the amphitheater in Caesarea. But by world standards, the local theater is small - only 4,000 spectators, which cannot be compared with the Colosseum in Italy or El Jem in Tunisia.
Even in Pamukkale in Turkey, the amphitheater is twice as large, although it is considered small. Of all the ancient buildings in Caesarea, it is the amphitheater that is the best-preserved, and it makes the most vivid impression on tourists.
Amphitheaters almost always endure time better than other buildings, since they were preferred to be built on the slopes of hills, there is simply nothing to collapse here. However, there are exceptions, for example, the city of Pompeii in Italy, where the theater was made of wood. The amphitheaters were used for theatrical performances, political debates, executions, and gladiatorial fights.
Now, this amphitheater is actively used for concerts. This is a very prestigious concert venue, and tickets here are not cheap.
THE HIPPODROME OF CAESAREA
This is the most valuable building for tourists. To see a real Roman hippodrome, and even in such a good condition, is a great success. Many ancient amphitheaters have survived, but only a few hippodromes. The largest hippodrome, the Roman Circus Maximus, has not survived at all.
The second-largest is the Constantinople Hippodrome in Istanbul, and only a few buildings remain of it. The Hippodrome of Caesarea is included in the list of the largest ones that have survived to this day. The main entertainment on the hippodromes of the Roman Empire was chariot racing. The chariots had to go 7 circles.
Rarely did the races happen when all the drivers lived to see the finish line. The performances at the hippodrome were not limited to chariot and horse races. Gladiator fights, executions of criminals, animal baiting, and animal baiting of people were held here. At the hippodrome in Caesarea, tunnels and arches have been preserved for the withdrawal of criminals and animals into the arena, pay attention to them. Local Israeli guides are very fond of talking about bullying. They just keep repeating: "So many Jews were executed here, so many Jews were executed there."
And they also love to criticize ancient Roman culture and religion, extolling Judaism. Of course, one should not forget the victims of tyranny - this is indisputable. But tourists still come to see the ancient city, and not listen to who was executed and where.
THE GOVERNOR'S PALACE OF CAESAREA
King Herod built a magnificent palace for himself, which was divided into two parts. After the death of King Herod, the palace became the seat of the prefects and procurators of the Jews. The first is the private part where the ruler lived, and this part of the building was located on the cape.
The second is a public part with a throne room and places of work for officials. Almost nothing is left of the personal part of the palace, it just plunged into the water and collapsed over time. From the public part, there is a platform with several pieces of columns (pictured on the right).
Of the interesting things for tourists, there is only a copy of the Pilate's Stone. And you can also see a beautiful stand, which depicts how the palace looked before.
CAESAREA - THE CITY OF THE CRUSADERS
The Crusaders seriously fortified Caesarea. They built real fortress walls and gates. All this has been preserved and is now available for tourists. This is a very interesting part of Caesarea, although its grandeur cannot be compared with the Rhodes fortress.
SIGNIFICANT DISCOVERIES OF CAESAREA
During the recent excavations, several significant archeological discoveries have been revealed, and if you arrive in Caesarea now, you will be able to get an impression of them from afar. Later it will be possible to travel within and between these sites.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE IMPORTANT DISCOVERIES MADE IN CAESAREA
1. A system of vaults in front of the "Temple Stage" built by King Herod. At the center of the excavation and conservation activity is the impressive façade of Caesarea's main public building from about 2,030 years ago - the sacred compound that Herod built as a tribute to his patron Augustus, Roman emperor, and in honor of the goddess Rome. About the construction of the Temple of Augustus and Rome, which overlooked the sea, Joseph Ben Matityahu told in his book about the Wars of the Jews: According to him, Herod built the temple at the top of the hill, and it was wonderful in size and appearance. Inside the temple stood a huge statue of the emperor, in the form of the god Zeus, and another statue of the goddess Rome, in the form of Hera Margos.
2. The sculptures were not found during the excavation and may have been taken from later. The hill mentioned by Yosef ben Matityahu is an artificial elevation, which can still be seen in the field today. This elevation, which covers an area of about 13 dunams, is known by archaeologists as the "Temple Stage". Recent excavations have uncovered an impressive system of vaults that stood on the western front of the "Temple Stage".
3. The base of the altar. An important and rare discovery was recently unveiled in front of the temple - a foundation of a large stone altar, which stands inside an open shrine. The altar was used to offer sacrifices in honor of Augustus. Alongside the altar were foundations of additional, smaller altars. Dozens of deep holes, discovered in excavation around the main altar, were intended, according to the diggers, to hold torches or the poles with the symbols of the Roman Legion carried by the soldiers.
THE ANCIENT SYNAGOGUE OF CAESAREA
The ancient synagogue of Caesarea was first discovered in the 1940s. Archaeological excavations at the site have uncovered finds indicating a synagogue's existence from the Byzantine period, some 1,500 years ago. Among the finds that were discovered - titles with menorah symbols, mosaics, and inscriptions with a dedication to donors and inscriptions of the 24 priesthood guards of ancient Caesarea.
THE CRUSADER MARKET OF CAESAREA
The Crusader market. An excavation in the eastern part of the Temple Mount revealed, among other things, impressive remains of a vibrant market that operated in Caesarea during the Crusader period, more than 700 years ago. Shops operated on the ground floor of the exposed buildings, and their second floor was used as a residence. Some rooms are tiled with colored mosaic, others with marble slabs.
A PUBLIC FOUNTAIN (NYMPHAEUM) FROM THE ROMAN PERIOD
A public fountain (nymphaeum) from the Roman period. In the 1st century AD, a public fountain was built in the northwest corner of the "Temple Stage". The nymph and pool walls were plastered and anointed with paintings, and marble statues were placed in its three niches. The fountain was re-exposed in 2014 and the Antiquities Authority's conservation director carried out restoration work on the canal around the pool, and the water returned to flow.
MOSAIC FLOORS IN CAESAREA
The latest discovery, as of this writing, is a rare and beautiful Roman mosaic from the 3rd-2nd century AD, on which is an ancient Greek inscription. The mosaic was discovered as part of works to restore the entrance bridge to Caesarea in the Byzantine period, part of the promenade project that will lead from Jisr a-Zarqa to Caesarea National Park. The excavation revealed part of a large and magnificent building from the Byzantine period (about 1500 years ago), which researchers believe was part of a large public space that was used for leisure, recreation, and business - a kind of "Sharona" of antiquity. But the real surprise awaited the diggers under the magnificent structure - a spectacular mosaic floor, which belonged to an even earlier structure, about 1800 years old.
"Ancient Caesarea never ceases to amaze, fascinate and excite, and time and time again it reveals to us a piece of history of international importance," says Guy Swarovski, deputy and acting chairman of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation. "The amazing mosaic that was unveiled is a unique discovery in Israel. This exposure - especially when it is located in the northern part of the national park, in an area that has yet to be excavated, is further evidence of the importance of the unprecedented conservation and restoration project led by Edmund de Rothschild Foundation and Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. "Arian de Rothschild. The fund's huge investment, of more than NIS 100 million, enables the expansion of intensive excavation activity to other areas in the old city of Caesarea."
Among all the glorious layers and remnants leftover from Herod's and other eras, do not feel for a moment the weight of history. Because just like in distant days, even today Caesarea is a vibrant and lively place. You can walk here on foot and with prams, breathe fresh air, indulge in the blue of the sea, eat well, sit on the lawn overlooking the mighty vaults, listen to an intimate concert at the fountain site, lick great ice cream, or drink beer in front of the sea...this is Caesarea!
A PRIVATE TOUR WITH A TOUR GUIDE IN CAESAREA NATIONAL PARK?
Caesarea national park is one of the best places to learn about the history of the holy land and King Herod, the site is loaded with many archeological discoveries therefore taking a private tour guide to Caesarea port will be a smart choice.